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Wednesday, October 31, 2012

A Look Back: Isaac Bitton

In an effort to link the past with the present, The Jewish Boxing Blog will present monthly a short biography of notable former Jewish boxers.

Bitton "The Jew" was a 19th century bare-knuckle boxer and is most remembered for his bout with George Maddox.

Isaac Haim Bitton was born in Amsterdam, Netherlands on June 29, 1779. His parents were Abraham and Rachel. His father had been born in Italy and Isaac had ancestry from Algeria. The family moved to England in 1789, but Rachel was left behind. She never managed to make it to London due to the events of the day. Isaac, whose father died in 1801, was known as a fencer before taking up boxing at the age of 22.

Isaac fought Paddington Tom Jones on July 31, 1801 at Wimbledon Commons in London, England. Isaac had money in his drawers during the fight and, at one point, realized he couldn't find the stashed cash. So, he called an illegal timeout which ended only when the loot was found. But, unlike Chris Webber in the 1993 NCAA basketball championship, Isaac received no penalty for his bizarre behavior.

Nicknamed Bitton The Jew, Isaac was a stout man with a paunch for a belly and a punishing punch. He used Daniel Mendoza's new style of "boxing" his opponent, including raising his hands to block punches. Bitton's dark curly hair descended into sideburns that twisted into a "J" around his upper lip.

Isaac took on Maddox on December 13, 1802. Both men received twenty guineas for the bout which took place at Wimbledon Commons. Bitton knocked Maddox down repeatedly in the first three rounds. Maddox exhibited an uncommon toughness in coming back to deliver his own punishment. Though Maddox's face looked like raw meat by the end of the match, the battle was deemed a draw.

On July 16, 1804, Isaac took on Bill Wood at Wilsden Green. Bitton fell in three of the first four rounds. But by the end of the fifth, Bitton had gained control of the contest and was considered the favorite. By the 17th round, Wood was suffering from exhaustion, but the fight continued. It wasn't until the 36th round that Wood finally gave up and Bitton was declared the winner.

Isaac retired from the ring that year. He taught fencing and boxing thereafter. Isaac was the lone remaining child when his mother died in 1812 in Amsterdam. In 1818, he got married and fathered enough children to form a minyan. He died in 1839. British actress June Brown is a descendant.

Blady, Ken. The Jewish Boxers Hall of Fame. 1988.
Egan, Pierce. Boxiana; Or Sketches of Ancient and Modern Pugilism. 1829.
Ford, John. Prizefighting: The Age of Regency Boximania. 1972.

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